The 82nd and final game of the NHL season was a roller coaster ride for the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs, with the Leafs netting a crucial 6-5 win at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.
Trailing 3-1, the Habs scored four goals in the second period (three by Michael Ryder) to take a 5-3 lead. The run got Leafs goaltender Andrew Raycroft pulled from the game, and seemingly gave Montreal all the momentum they needed.
But the ride wasn't over. After Habs goaltender Cristobal Huet surrendered a late second-period goal, the Leafs scored twice more in the third period to gain a 6-5 advantage. The slim margin held up, giving Toronto an inside track on the last playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. The New York Islanders need to defeat the New Jersey Devils on Sunday to beat the Leafs into the postseason.
The Habs, meanwhile, saw an up-and-down season come to an end on Saturday. On December 23rd, the team ranked fourth in the East. An injury to their top goaltender hurt them in the standings, but a spark from their young players kept them in the fight until the end.
If nothing else, the youth movement suggests that the years ahead will be very good to the Canadiens. With a nucleus of Plekanec, Higgins, Komisarek, Latendresse, Lapierre, Halak and Kostitsyn, the Habs will compete next season. Add first-round draft pick Carey Price in goal, and Montreal should contend for a title in the not-too-distant future.
For now, though, to the victors go the spoils. Let the 2007 NHL playoffs begin.